Qur'an & modern science. Compatible or incompatible?

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful


Ever since the dawn of human life on this planet, Man has always sought to understand Nature, his own place in the scheme of Creation and the purpose of Life itself. In this quest for Truth, spanning many centuries and diverse civilizations, organized religion has shaped human life and determined to a large extent, the course of history. While some religions have been based on books, claimed by their adherents to be divinely inspired, others have relied solely on human experience.

Al-Qur'an, the main source of the Islamic faith, is a book believed by Muslims, to be of completely Divine origin. Muslims also believe that it contains guidance for all mankind. Since the message of the Qur'an is believed to be for all times, it should be relevant to every age. Does the Qur'an pass this test? In this booklet, I intend to give an objective analysis of the Muslim belief regarding the Divine origin of the Qur'an, in the light of established scientific discoveries.

There was a time, in the history of world civilization, when 'miracles', or what was perceived to be a miracle, took precedence over human reason and logic. But how do we define the term 'miracle'? A miracle is anything that takes place out of the normal course of life and for which humankind has no explanation. However, we must be careful before we accept something as a miracle. An article in 'The Times of India' Mumbai, in 1993 reported that 'a saint' by the name 'Baba Pilot' claimed to have stayed continuously submerged under water in a tank for three consecutive days and nights. However, when reporters wanted to examine the base of the tank of water where he claimed to have performed this 'miraculous' feat, he refused to let them do so. He argued by asking as to how one could examine the womb of a mother that gives birth to a child. The 'Baba' was hiding something. It was a gimmick simply to gain publicity. Surely, no modern man with even the slightest inkling towards rational thinking would accept such a 'miracle'. If such false miracles are the tests of divinity, then we would have to accept Mr. P. C. Sorcar, the world famous magician known for his ingenious magical tricks and illusions, as the best God-man.

A book, claiming Divine origin, is in effect, claiming to be a miracle. Such a claim should be easily verifiable in any age, according to the standards of that age. Muslims believe, that the Qur'an is the last and final revelation of God, the miracle of miracles revealed as a mercy to mankind. Let us therefore investigate the veracity of this belief. I would like to thank Brother Musaddique Thange for his editorial assistance. May Allah reward him for his efforts, Ameen.

Dr Zakir Naik

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Literature and poetry have been instruments of human expression and creativity, in all cultures. The world also witnessed an age when literature and. poetry occupied, pride of position., similar to that now enjoyed by science and technology.
Muslims as well as non-Muslims agree that Al-Qur'an is Arabic literature par excellence - that it is the best Arabic literature on the face of the earth. The Qur'an, challenges mankind in the following verses:

"And if ye are in As to what We have revealed
From time to time to Our Servant,
then produce a Surah Like thereunto
And call your witnesses or helpers
(If there are any) besides Allah, If your (doubts) are true.
"But if ye cannot And of a surety you cannot
Then fear the Fire Whose fuel is Men and Stones
Which is prepared for those who reject Faith."
(Al-Qur'an 2:23-24)

1 Al-Qur'an 2:23-24 indicates Surah or Chapter No. 2 and
Ayaat or Verses 23 and 24.
The same notation is followed throughout the book.
References and translation of the Qur'an are
from the translation of the Qur'an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali,
New revised edition, 1989, published by Amana Corporation,
Maryland, USA.

The challenge of the Qur'an, is to produce a single Surah (chapter) like the Surahs it contains. The same challenge is repeated in the Qur'an several times. The challenge to produce a Surah, which, in beauty, eloquence, depth and meaning is at least somewhat similar to a Qur'anic Surah remains unmet to this day.

A modem rational man, however, would never accept a religious scripture which says, in the best possible poetic language, that the world is flat. This is because we live in an age, where human reason, logic and science are given primacy. Not many would accept the Qur'an's extraordinarily beautiful language, as proof of its Divine origin. Any scripture claiming to be a divine revelation must also be acceptable on the strength of its own reason and logic.

According to the famous physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Einstein, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." Let us therefore study the Qur'an, and analyze whether Qur'an and Modem Science are compatible or incompatible?

The Qur'an is not a book of science but a book of 'signs', i.e. ayats. There are more than six thousand 'signs' in the Qur'an of which more than a thousand deal with science.

We all know that many a times Science takes a 'U-turn'. In this book I have considered only established scientific facts and not mere hypotheses and theories that are based on assumptions and are not backed by proof.


The creation of the universe is explained by astrophysicists in a widely accepted phenomenon, popularly known as the 'Big Bang'. It is supported by observational and experimental data gathered by astronomers and astrophysicists for decades. According to the 'Big Bang', the whole universe was initially one big mass (Primary Nebula). Then there was a 'Big Bang' (Secondary Separation) which resulted in the formation of Galaxies. These then divided to form stars, planets, the sun, the moon, etc. The origin of the universe was unique and the probability of it occurring by 'chance' is zero.

The Qur'an contains the following verse, regarding the origin of the universe:

"Do not the Unbelievers see That the heavens and the earth Were joined together
(as one Unit of Creation), before We clove them asunder?"
[AI-Qu'ran 21:30]

The striking congruence between the Qur'anic verse and the 'Big Bang' is inescapable! How could a book, which first appeared in the deserts of Arabia 1400 years ago, contain this profound scientific truth?

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Scientists say that before the galaxies in the universe were formed, celestial matter was initially in the form of gaseous matter. In short, huge gaseous matter or clouds were present before the formation of the galaxies. To describe initial celestial matter, the word 'smoke' is more appropriate than gas. The following Qur'anic verse refers to this state of the universe by the word dhukhan which means smoke.

"Moreover, He Comprehended In His design the sky. And it had been (as) smoke:
He said to it And to the earth: Come ye together, Willingly or unwillingly.'
They said: 'We do come (Together), in willing obedience."
[AI-Qur'an 41:11]

Again, this fact is a corollary to the 'Big Bang' and was not known to the Arabs during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). What then, could have been the source of this knowledge?

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In early times, people believed that the earth is flat. For centuries, men were afraid to venture out too far, lest they should fall off the edge. Sir Francis Drake was the first person who proved that the earth is spherical when he sailed around it in 1597.
Consider the following Qur'anic verse regarding the alternation of day and night:

"Seest thou not that Allah merges Night into Day
And He merges Day into Night?
[AI-Qur'an 31:29]

Merging here means that the night slowly and gradually changes to day and vice versa. This phenomenon can only take place if the earth is spherical. If the earth was flat, there would have been a sudden change from night to day and from day to night.

The following verse also alludes to the spherical shape of the earth:

"He created the heavens And the earth In true (proportions):
He makes the Night Overlap the Day, and the Day Overlap the Night."
[AI-Qur'an 39:5]

The Arabic word used here is Kawwara meaning 'to overlap' or 'to coil'- the way a turban is wound around the head. The overlapping or coiling of the day and night can only take place if the earth is spherical.

The earth is not exactly round like a ball, but geo-spherical i.e. it is flattened at the poles. The following verse contains a description of the earth's shape:

"And the earth, moreover, Hath He made egg shaped."
[AI-Qur'an 79:30]

The Arabic word for egg here is dahaha1 which means an ostrich-egg. The shape of an ostrich-egg resembles the geo-spherical shape of the earth.

Thus the Qur'an correctly describes the shape of the earth, though the prevalent notion when the Qur'an was revealed was that the earth is flat.

1 The Arabic word dahaha has been
translated by A. Yusuf Ali as
"vast expanse", which also is correct.
The word dahaha also means an ostrich-egg.

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It was believed by earlier civilizations that the moon emanates its own light. Science now tells us that the light of the moon is reflected light. However this fact was mentioned in the Qur'an 1,400 years ago in the following verse:

"Blessed is He Who made Constellations in the skies
And placed therein a Lamp and a Moon giving light."
[AI-Qur'an 25:61]

The Arabic word for the sun in the Qur'an, is shams. It is referred to as siraaj which means a 'torch' or as wahhaaj which means 'a blazing lamp' or as diya which means 'shining glory'. All three descriptions are appropriate to the sun, since it generates intense heat and light by its internal combustion. The Arabic word for the moon is qamar and it is described in the Qur'an as muneer which is a body that gives nur i.e. light. Again, the Qur'anic description matches perfectly with the true nature of the moon which does not give off light itself and is an inert body that reflects the light of the sun. Not once in the Qur'an, is the moon mentioned as siraaj, wahhaaj or diya or the sun as nur or muneer. This implies that the Qur'an recognizes the difference between the nature of sunlight and moonlight.

Consider the following verses related to the nature of light
from the sun and the moon:

"It is He who made the sun to be a shining glory
And the moon to be a light
(Of beauty)."
[Al-Qur'an 10:5]

"See ye not How Allah has created The seven heavens
One above another, "And made the moon A light in their midst,
and made the sun As a (Glorious) Lamp?"
[AI-Qur'an 71:15-16]

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For a long time European philosophers and scientists believed that the earth stood still in the centre of the universe and every other body including the sun moved around it. In the West, this geocentric concept of the universe was prevalent right from the time of Ptolemy in the second century B.C. In 1512, Nicholas Copernicus put forward his Heliocentric Theory of Planetary Motion, which asserted that the sun is motionless at the centre of the solar system with the planets revolving around it.

In 1609, the German scientist Yohannus Keppler published the 'Astronomia Nova'. In this he concluded that not only do the planets move in elliptical orbits around the sun, they also rotate upon their axes at irregular speeds. With this knowledge it became possible for European scientists to explain correctly many of the mechanisms of the solar system including the sequence of night and day.

After these discoveries, it was thought that the Sun was stationary and did not rotate about its axis like the Earth. I remember having studied this fallacy from Geography books during my school days.

Consider the following Qur'anic verse:

"It is He Who created The Night and the Day,
And the sun and the moon: All (the celestial bodies)
Swim along, each in its Rounded course."
[AI-Qur'an 21:33]

The Arabic word used in the above verse is yasbahun . The word yasbahun is derived from the v/ord sabaha. It carries with it the idea of motion that comes from any moving body. If you use the word for a man on the ground, it would not mean that he is rolling but would mean he is walking or running. If you use the word for a man in water it would not mean that he is floating but would mean that he is swimming.

Similarly, if you use the word yasbah for a celestial body such as the sun it would not mean that it is only flying through space but would mean that it is also rotating as it goes through space. Most of the school textbooks have incorporated the fact that the sun rotates about its axis. The rotation of the sun about its own axis can be proved with the help of an equipment that projects the image of the sun on the table top so that one can examine the image of the sun without being blinded. It is noticed that the sun has spots which complete a circular motion once every 25 days i.e. the sun takes approximately 25 days to rotate around its axis.

In fact, the sun travels through space at roughly 150 miles per second, and takes about 200 million years to complete one revolution around the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.

"It is not permitted To the Sun to catch up The Moon,
nor can The Night outstrip the Day:
Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit
(According to Law)."
[AI-Qur'an 36:40]

This verse mentions an essential fact discovered by modern astronomy, i.e. the existence of the individual orbits of the Sun and the Moon, and their journey through space with their own motion.

The 'fixed place' towards which the sun travels, carrying with it the solar system, has been located exactly by modern astronomy. It has been given a name, the Solar Apex. The solar system is indeed moving in space towards a point situated in the constellation of Hercules (alpha Lyrae) whose exact location is firmly established.
The moon rotates around its axis in the same duration that it takes to revolve around the earth. It takes approximately 29,5 days to complete one rotation.

One cannot help but be amazed at the scientific accuracy of the Qur'anic verses. Should we not ponder over the question: "What was the source of knowledge contained in the Qur'an?"

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The light of the sun is due to a chemical process on its surface that has been taking place continuously for the past five billion years. It will come to an end at some point of time in the future when the sun will be totally extinguished leading to extinction of all life on earth. Regarding the impermanence of the sun's existence the Qur'an says:

"And the Sun Runs its course For a period determined For it;
that is The decree of (Him) The exalted in Might, The All-Knowing."
[AI-Qur'an 36:38]*

* A similar message is conveyed in the Qur'an
in 13:2, 35:13, 39:5 and 39:21.
The Arabic word used here is mustaqarr,
which means a place or time that is determined.
Thus the Qur'an says that the sun
runs towards a determined place,
and will do so only up to a pre-determined
period of time - meaning that it will
end or extinguish.

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Space outside organized astronomical systems was earlier assumed to be a vacuum. Astrophysicists later discovered the presence of bridges of matter in this interstellar space. These bridges of matter are called plasma, and consist of completely ionized gas containing equal number of free electrons and positive ions. Plasma is sometimes called the fourth state of matter (besides the three known states viz. solid, liquid and gas). The Qur'an mentions the presence of this interstellar material in the following verse:

"He Who created the heavens And the earth and all That is between."
[AI-Qur'an 25:59]

It would be ridiculous, for anybody to even suggest that the presence of interstellar galactic material was known 1400 years ago.

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